It’s been long enough to move on from last year. The Milwaukee Bucks captured their first title in 50 years. Before last year, the Bucks were one of six teams that hadn’t won a title from 1983 or earlier. We also forget that there are 11 teams in the league that has never won a championship.
As we transition to the 2021-2022 season, there are plenty of teams looking to end the drought. Some teams are trying to hold onto their dominance. For each of the professional teams in the league, this is the last time each team won an NBA championship.
Atlanta Hawks - 1958
The St. Louis Hawks were the glory days before the Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968. During the late 1950s and 1960s, the team was one of the best teams in the league. In 1957, the Hawks lost to the Boston Celtics in a double-overtime Game 7 thriller in the NBA Finals. However, the following year, the team got their revenge by beating the Celtics in six games. Bob Pettit scored 50 points in the final game of the series.
Since then, the Hawks have made the Conference Finals in 2015 and 2021. These two times are the only times that the Hawks have advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
Boston Celtics - 2008
The 2007 offseason featured a major splash by the Celtics. The team had two core pieces in veteran Paul Pierce and a young, energetic point guard in Rajon Rondo, who was one of the league’s better two-way players. The team was missing stars, so they went out and traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
The combination of Pierce, Garnett and Allen helped the Celtics win their first NBA championship since 1986. Pierce was named Finals MVP despite a stellar performance from Garnett in the Finals. Overall, it was a grueling postseason as the Celtics set a record with 26 postseason games played.
Brooklyn Nets - None
The former New Jersey Nets were considered champions in the ABA in 1974 and 1976. However, the Nets have never won a true NBA championship. The New Jersey franchise played from 1977 to 2012, making the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 with the leadership of Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson.
Since the Nets moved to Brooklyn, the team has yet to play in a Conference Final. This year, the team played the Milwaukee Bucks to a seven-game series but came up short in the end. With Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden leading the pack, there’s a chance the drought could end this season.
Charlotte Hornets - None
Since becoming an NBA franchise in 1988, the Hornets or Bobcats have been dismal. The team has never won a divisional title, nor a conference championship. Altogether, in 33 years of existence, the Hornets have never played for an NBA championship.
Their best season came in 2000-2001 when the team went 46-36 and made the second round of the playoffs. Ultimately, the Hornets lost to the Bucks in seven games. Since that season, the team has made the playoffs three times, losing in the first round in each appearance.
Chicago Bulls - 1998
When the Bulls rolled out “the last dance” of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, nobody thought that 23 years later the name would fit the drought perfectly. The Bulls have yet to make the NBA Finals since Jordan won his sixth championship that year. The team featured mediocre play the following decade, but rose to promise, no pun intended, when Derrick Rose was drafted No. 1 overall in 2008.
Rose became the youngest MVP ever in 2011 and the Bulls made the Conference Finals. However, the team fell to the Miami Heat. The following year, Rose suffered a career-altering knee injury and the rest is history. The Bulls haven’t made the playoffs since 2017.
Cleveland Cavaliers - 2016
The first championship in Cleveland was thanks to the comeback story of LeBron James. After winning two titles in Miami, LeBron felt the need to return to the team that drafted him and deliver on his past failures. With the help of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers played one of the most memorable NBA Finals series we have ever seen.
The Cavaliers took down the Golden State Warriors in seven games. That year, the Warriors had won an NBA record 73 games. In Game 7, Irving hit a clutch go-ahead three-pointer. LeBron had the famous block on Andre Iguodala. Once the clock hit zero, fans across the world had goosebumps when LeBron had tears in his eyes as he sat on the court.
Dallas Mavericks - 2011
It was the first year of the “Big Three'' of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in Miami. As expected, the Heat made the NBA Finals out of the East. Out of the West, the Dallas Mavericks played spoiler to the entire league and surprisingly made the NBA Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki played an amazing series that earned him Finals MVP as the Mavericks took down the Heat in six games. Seasoned veterans Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, and Jason Kidd were able to enjoy their first ring as well. It feels like it was just yesterday that the Mavericks won that championship, but all four of those players are now out of the league.
Denver Nuggets - None
For a team that has been in the league since 1976, it’s almost surprising that the team has never made the NBA Finals. The team made the Conference Finals in 2009 when the core of Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony led the way. In the playoffs, the team finished with the most lopsided win in NBA playoff history, a 58-point victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
The Nuggets then played in the Conference Finals for the first time since 1985 but were taken down by Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. In 2020, the Nuggets returned to the Conference Finals with future MVP Nikola Jokic leading the way. With the MVP back, as well as a healthy Jamal Murray, the hopes are as high as the mountains in Denver that their Finals drought could break.
Detroit Pistons - 2004
The Pistons were a dynasty in the mid-2000s with a core of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, and Ben Wallace. From 2003 to 2008, the Pistons made the Eastern Conference Finals, while making the NBA Finals in 2004 and 2005.
The 2004 season ended with a championship over the Los Angeles Lakers. Some could say that the Pistons’ win over the Lakers helped lead to the separation of Shaq and Kobe Bryant. Billups won Finals MVP after he averaged 21.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.2 steals, and shot 50.1% from the field, 47.1% from three-point range, and 92.9% from the free-throw line.
Golden State Warriors - 2018
From 2015 to 2019, the Warriors made the NBA Finals, winning titles in 2015, 2017, and 2018. Their last title came on the heels of Kevin Durant’s second consecutive NBA Finals MVP performance. The 2018 Finals was a dominant performance by the Warriors, who were led by Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
For starters, the Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were in the Finals for a fourth consecutive year. It wasn’t so much the Finals that stuck out for Golden State this year, whereas their performance in the Conference Finals. The Warriors trailed 3-2 to the top-seeded Houston Rocket but were able to move on in seven games, which included a 34-point performance by Durant in Game 7. In the Finals, Durant averaged 28.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.5 assists.
Houston Rockets - 1995
Despite a late comeback attempt by Michael Jordan, the Houston Rockets did not live in Jordan’s shadow as the Orlando Magic came out of the East. Hakeem Olajuwon saw Jordan dominate in 1991, 1992, and 1993. In Jordan’s first year of retirement (1994), the Rockets won the championship.
Thanks to a midseason trade for Portland’s all-time scorer Clyde Drexler, the Rockets made it back to the NBA Finals and took down a young Shaq squad to win back-to-back. The battle between Olajuwon and Shaq did not disappoint. Shaq averaged 28.0 points, but Olajuwon got the upper hand by averaging 32.8 as he claimed his second straight Finals MVP.
Indiana Pacers - None
In the ABA, the Pacers were champions in 1970, 1972, and 1973. Since merging to the NBA in 1976, the Pacers have yet to win a true NBA championship. In their franchise history, the team has just won an appearance in the NBA Finals (2000). In the 1990s, the team was a competitive squad but fell victim to Michael Jordan and the Bulls numerous times in the playoffs.
Reggie Miller was the team’s standout in their heyday. Their first Finals appearance ended in six games to the Lakers. The Pacers historically are always just so close. In 2013 and 2014, young Paul George, David West, Lance Stephenson, and Roy Hibbert led the team to a Conference Finals appearance. However, they were met with another disappointing defeat by another great superstar in LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Los Angeles Clippers - None
Since becoming a professional franchise in 1970, the Clippers have been a staple of mediocrity. While Clips fans may complain about always living in the shadow of their fellow Los Angeles franchise in the Lakers, there is not much to back up that they shouldn’t. The Clippers own just two divisional titles in their franchise history in 2013 and 2014. Even with a lineup featuring Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, the team never made it out of the second round of the playoffs.
In 2021, the Clippers made the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Had Kawhi Leonard not suffered a torn ACL, we could be talking about the team making the NBA Finals for the first time. Instead, the team was bounced by the Suns and the rest is history.
Los Angeles Lakers - 2020
Winning the title in 2020 should go down as one of the most special championships in franchise history. The tragic death of Kobe Bryant in January 2020 set the basketball community back. Bryant won five titles with the Lakers and his death was too soon. The fact that LeBron James was able to win his fourth Finals MVP this year, on top of the pandemic that shut down the country, is very impressive.
This season was the first year that LeBron played alongside Anthony Davis. The tandem led a defense that ranked near the top of the league. It took six games, but the Lakers took down the Miami Heat in the Finals.
Memphis Grizzlies - None
Originally founded in Vancouver, the Grizzlies moved to Memphis in 2002. In their franchise history, the Grizzlies have not won a division or conference title. The team awaits making their first-ever NBA Finals. With a young core of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, and Jaren Jackson Jr., the team believes that could happen down the road.
The closest the team has ever come to the NBA Finals was in 2013. The core of Mike Conley Jr., Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol led a surprise run that was ultimately ended by the San Antonio Spurs. Gasol was named Defensive Player of the Year, while Conley was later awarded the highest player salary in the history of the league at the time.
Miami Heat - 2013
Has it already almost been a full decade since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh landed the Heat their second straight championship? The 2013 NBA Finals is one of the greatest Finals in the history of the NBA Finals. The San Antonio Spurs held a 3-2 advantage over the Heat. With the Heat trailing by three in the closing seconds, Ray Allen hit the legendary game-tying three-pointer, as the Heat eventually defeated the Spurs in overtime.
In Game 7, LeBron scored 37 points on his way to earning his second straight Finals MVP. Since then, the Heat made the NBA Finals in 2020 before losing to the Lakers in six games.
Milwaukee Bucks - 2021
It took 50 years, but the Bucks captured their first championship this summer over the Suns. After trailing 2-0 in the series, the Bucks roared back to win four straight, including winning Game 6. In Game 4, the Bucks won with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson in attendance, both stars of the 1971 championship team.
In Game 6, Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points to clinch the series. He became the seventh player to ever accomplish this, joining the likes of Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, Jerry West, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James.
Minnesota Timberwolves - None
Since joining the league in 1989, the Timberwolves own just one division title in their franchise history. Quite frankly, since Kevin Garnett left the team in 2007, the team has been irrelevant, making the playoffs just one time (2018) since 2004.
Now, that 2004 NBA playoffs was a one to remember for Minnesotians. The Wolves won their first-ever playoff series against the Nuggets, before beating the Kings in a seven-game series in the second round. When the Wolves won, league MVP Kevin Garnett leaped across the scorers’ table upon winning Game 7, which has lived as an iconic moment in Minnesota sports history. However, the Lakers beat the T-Wolves in the Conference Finals. Many believe that had Sam Cassell not been injured, the Lakers would have lost.
New Orleans Pelicans - None
When New Orleans was founded in 2002, the team’s mascot was the Hornets until the Pelicans were changed in 2013. Since its founding, the team has won just one divisional title in 2008. That year, the team was led by Chris Paul and David Wes, who helped the team clinch the No. 2 seed. In the second round, the team lost to the Spurs in seven games.
Since then, Paul left for the Clippers in 2011. Anthony Davis was seen as the savior, but after eight years of minimal playoff success, he was traded to the Lakers. Many believe that had DeMarcus Cousins not been injured during the 2017-2018 season, the team might have made a run to the Conference Finals.
New York Knicks - 1973
The Knicks are one of the original NBA franchises, so their 1973 title was a true NBA championship. Led by Walt Frazier and Willis Reed, the Knicks won titles in both 1970 and 1973. Despite averaging low offensive numbers, Reed’s defensive contributions were enough for him to be named Finals MVP.
Since then, the Knicks made the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999. Despite being led by Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, the Knicks fell to the Rockets and Spurs respectively. Since 1999, the Knicks have won just one divisional title.
Oklahoma City Thunder - 1979
In 1977, Lenny Wilkins was brought back to coach the team after the team started the year 5-17. By the end of the year, the team made the NBA Finals before losing in seven games to the Bullets. The following year, the team lost star center Marvin Webster to the Knicks, but the rest of the roster stayed intact.
In the playoffs, Seattle defeated the Suns in seven games in the Conference Finals before playing the Bullets in the Finals again. This time, Seattle took care of business and won their lone championship. Gus Williams and Finals MVP Dennis Johnson shined in the backcourt. Since then, the combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook gave older fans a blast from the past but were shut down in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Heat.
Orlando Magic - None
Since 1989, the Magic have made the NBA Finals two times. In 1995, the Magic was led by Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, and a young group of core players. The team defeated the Celtics, Bulls, and Pacers before falling to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets in four games.
The Magic made the Conference Finals in 1996 but were taken down by Jordan’s Bulls. It wasn’t until 2009 that the Magic made it back thanks to a core of Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jameer Nelson. In the Finals, the Lakers defeated the Magic in five games.
Philadelphia 76ers - 1983
The 76ers won two other championships in 1955 and 1967, but their last came in 1983. Before the season, the 76ers acquired center Moses Malone. With a rotation of Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, and Bobby Jones already in place, the team dominated the regular season with 65 wins, which is the second-most wins in franchise history. Malone was named MVP and claimed the 76ers would sweep all the rounds of the playoffs.
The 76ers lost just one game that year, nearly backing up Malone’s claim. Since then, the closest the team has come was in 2001 when Allen Iverson led the team to the NBA Finals. Moving forward, the 76ers are coming off a season where they were the No. 1 seed in the East.
Phoenix Suns - None
In a way, the world was rooting for Chris Paul to win his first championship this year. It not only would have been Paul’s first ring, the Suns as well. The Suns were founded in 1968 and have made the NBA Finals three times, but have come up empty in each of the three tries.
The Suns were defeated by the Bucks in six games in 2021. In 1993, Charles Barkley led the Suns to the Finals but was defeated by Jordan’s Bulls. In 1976, the Suns were taken down by the Celtics and future Hall of Famers Dave Cowens and John Havlicek.
Portland Trail Blazers - 1977
Portland has advanced to the NBA Finals three times. Outside of their championship in 1977, the team made the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992 but were defeated by Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan respectively. From Clyde Drexler to Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers have gone 28 years without making the NBA Finals.
In 1977, Maurice Lucas was drafted from the supplemental draft from the ABA merger, while Jack Ramsey was hired as head coach. Those two moves paved the way for the Trail Blazers to finish 49-33, make the playoffs, and win the title. Their success was coupled with fans. Starting in April, the team began a sellout streak of 814 straight games, which was considered the longest streak in American sports history until 1995.
Sacramento Kings - 1951
The Kings franchise has been around for nearly 100 years but owns just one title dating back to 70 years ago. The Rochester Royals defeated the New York Knicks 4-3 for its only championship. Since then, the Kings have failed to make the NBA Finals one time.
The team came close in 2002 before losing to the Lakers. Many fans believe that the Kings could have gone on to win the title and the debate has continued for many years since the allegations were raised to former NBA referee Tim Donaghy.
San Antonio Spurs - 2014
In 2013 and 2014, the Spurs were the best of the West. After failing to clinch the title with a 3-2 lead in 2013, the Spurs bested the Miami Heat in five games the following year. It was the fourth title for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. It was Duncan’s fifth title overall with the Spurs.
In this Finals, it wasn’t Duncan, Parker, nor Ginobili that stood out the most. It was a young Kawhi Leonard, who became the third-youngest player to ever win Finals MVP at 22 years and 298 days. Despite not leading the team in points, Leonard played superb defense on LeBron, which contributed heavily to him being awarded MVP.
Toronto Raptors - 2019
All it took was Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for the Raptors to win their first championship in team history. Well, it took a lot more than that. It cost all-time scorer DeMar DeRozan, the heart and soul of the Raptors rise to relevance. However, Leonard’s star power, Kyle Lowry’s gritty effort, and a midseason trade for Marc Gasol led the Raptors to a championship victory over the Warriors.
The Warriors lost Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in the Finals to injuries, but there is no asterisk to this championship. The Raptors competed even with both in the lineup. With that said, many will say the key moment in these playoffs was in the second round, which featured a game-winning three-pointer by Leonard against the 76ers in Game 7.
Utah Jazz - None
As the Trail Blazers, the Jazz were victims of Michael Jordan’s greatness in the 1990s. In 1997 and 1998, the Jazz made the NBA Finals with hopes of winning the title. With a Hall of Fame tandem of John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Jazz likely would have won at least one title in the modern era.
Instead, the Bulls took down the Jazz both years. The series featured many key moments, but none greater than Jordan’s game-winner over Byron Russell. The Jazz has not made a Conference Finals since 1998 but was the No. 1 seed last year. With Donovan MitwasRudy Gobert leading the way, there’s hope for the future.
Washington Wizards - 1978
Gilbert Arenas, John Wall, and Bradley Beal will go down as loveable Wizards players, but none were able to lead the Wizards to a Conference Finals appearance. You have to go back to 1978 when the then Washington Bullets took down the Seattle SuperSonics in an iconic seven-game series.
Bullet’s power forward Wes Unseld was named the MVP, but never led the team in points. With that said, he was a strong rebounder and shut down Marvin Webster and Jack Sikma. In Game 7, Charles Johnson and Robert Dandridge scored 19 points in a 105-99 thriller.